Everton manager Ronald Koeman has slammed critics of striker Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Ross Barkley following their limp performances during Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
The duo have been castigated for their anonymous showings against Liverpool as the Reds ran out 3-1 winners to boost their hopes of sealing a place in next season’s Champions League.
Defeat rocked Everton’s own chances, which in turn heightened the importance of tonight’s Premier League clash with fifth-placed Manchester United at Old Trafford. Victory would move the Toffees, who are currently seventh, above Jose Mourinho’s outfit.
“Ross played in a different position than he has played in the last few weeks,” said Koeman. “Of course, he lost several balls in the midfield instead of playing a little faster, but he needs to improve that.
“But taking out one or two players and saying that was the problem last Saturday, that’s not fair. [Lukaku] is the top scorer of the league. Why now after the Liverpool game do we have to criticise Rom?
“He’s a great striker. He’s working hard. He’s a human boy. It’s not always a 10 out of 10 performance. If you don’t play football, maybe you don’t understand.”
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available for United after serving a three-match domestic suspension, while midfielder Ander Herrera also returns from a ban. Everton remain without Morgan Schneiderlin, Aaron Lennon, James McCarthy and Ramiro Funes Mori.